Everyone loves to hear stories of the gods and goddesses of ancient Greece. Yet little did we know how crazy these stories were. On a tour of mainland Greece, I was fortunate to hear about some of these stories – even some I was not aware of.
Delphi is the centre of the ancient world, and the place where many legends were born. In Greek mythology it is said that Zeus, king of the gods, released two eagles at each end of the world (east and west). When the eagles met in the middle they were at Delphi. This is how the Greeks determined that the bellybutton of the ancient world was to be Delphi.
Now the crazy, or not so crazy, story……
People came from far and wide to worship at Delphi. While there, they would seek advice from the Oracle. The Oracle was a fortune teller, a wise woman, known as a Pythia who sat inside the Temple of Apollo. When the people spoke to the Oracle, it was a link to their god Apollo but with different voice. It was if Apollo himself were answering through the Oracle. Apollo was worshiped happily by the people and they felt a connection to him through the Oracle.
The advice that the Oracle provided was not telling people the answer, but she directed them to find and interpret her advice themselves. She would provide options and it was up to the individuals to make an interpretation. You could say that she was the original version of what we call a counselor today.
One story that highlights that the advice is up to interpretation is during the civil war when government and officers came from all over to seek Oracle advice. When the King of Persia made an attack on Athens, the Oracles advice was sought n how the Athenians could win. The Oracle advised that the war would be won with “wooden walls”. There were many arguments on what this cryptic advice could mean. Many came to the conclusion that it meant surrounding the acropolis with thorn bushes. Only one captain, Themistocles, believed that “wooden walls” meant boats and consequently he won the battle by launching a fleet of ships on the water.
As the Oracle provided the advice, gases and smoke would billow around her and fill the temple. Quite often her words were unclear and she spoke as if she were under a spell. Scientific research has revealed that the gases and smoke that appeared were actually emitted from the volcano beneath the city. Delphi was located on top of two plates and when they shifted it made the gases seep up into the temple. So when the Oracle gave answers the gases would billow from the temple and she would be breathing these gases and fumes in all day. Some people say that the Oracle caused these gases while others say that maybe she was high on drugs.
Today the city of Delphi is slowly decaying and the most noticeable features still standing are the main poles of the temple of Apollo and the Treasury building that has been restored. The Treasury building was where the people brought offerings to Apollo when they visited the city and before they went in to speak with the Oracle.
Not only do you get to walk in the crazy footsteps of history when visiting Delphi, you also get an amazing panoramic view of the whole valley.